Digest of terms

guilt

responsibility for words or actions which lead to negative consequences. In criminal law, the verdict of 'guilty' is the occasion for determining an appropriate punishment. Moral guilt may overlap with the legal condition, but has more extensive and personal frames of reference. There is some evidence that individuals can suffer from an exaggerated sense of guilt, which goes beyond that which it is realistic for them to feel - they suffer, it may be said, from a 'guilt complex'. Equally, there are others who appear to be largely lacking of any such sense, even when sign of it would be highly appropriate. (Thus, 'psychopathic' behaviour is associated with individuals who may be described as 'conscience-less', a condition, which may be socially or genetically induced.)

Some forms of religion are criticized for inducing or reinforcing a guilt complex. On the other hand means are encouraged within religious traditions for the expiation of guilt, often including acceptance of punishment, performance of a penance, the payment of compensation and/or the offering of sacrifice. Deeper than any of these is the experience of seeking forgiveness and being forgiven.

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